JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Homicides are up 42% percent since March 1 in this border city besieged by drug cartels and a growing drug-addiction problem.

The drug violence has spiked despite a stay-at-home order issued in early March, which local officials admit has been difficult to enforce.

April ended with 174 murders that included victims chopped into pieces, burned to death, hanged from bridges, stuffed into storm drains and gunned-down in broad daylight.

Twenty-six of the victims were women. Some were men killed in front of their family members during deliberate home invasions. Another victim was a New York resident killed along with his Mexican girlfriend amid a fusillade of 20 to 30 bullets moments after coming out of a cellphone store.

Mexican police said most of the murders are drug-related and that the spike first noticed in March has to do with the arrests, deaths or jail transfers of gang leaders.

Juarez firefighters try to figure out how to pull a homicide victim from a storm drain in Central Juarez. (photo by Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

Mexican authorities have been trying to retake control of streets in working-class neighborhoods where drug sales have jumped in recent years, as drug cartels have been selling in Mexico all the drugs they’re unable to smuggle into the United States, Mexican investigators and U.S. analysts say.

At the export level, the remnant s of the old Juarez cartel now known as La Linea have stepped up attacks against Sinaloa cartel proxies in Chihuahua state. On April 3, La Linea is suspected of being behind a deadly ambush that left 19 alleged members of the Gente Nueva faction of the Sinaloa cartel dead in the town of Madera.

“Every time you break up a criminal group or take out their leaders, others rush to take their place,” said Chihuahua state police spokesman Alejandro Ruvalcaba. “They know where each other lives. Sometimes they just drive out to their homes, walk inside and taken them out.”

As for the increasing number of women being murdered in Juarez, Ruvalcaba said some — not all — investigations also point to drug activity. “You might start selling drugs to make money, get robbed or get arrested and then you have to answer for the (lost) drugs.”

Police tape surrounds the scene where a tattoo artist was murdered in his Juarez studio. (photo by Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

Either that or another gang wants to take over sales in your neighborhood and its first move is to replace you with their hand-picked retailer, police said.

As for last week’s murder of Patrick Landers, 32, a resident of New York, and his girlfriend Karla Baca, of Juarez, police say they are now focusing on surveillance camera video to try to identify the culprit. Landers’ black Jeep Wrangler was pelted by a hail of bullets near Lopez Mateos, one of Juarez’s main avenues. Most of the shots appeared to be aimed at Baca’s passenger side of the vehicle.

The Crimes Against Women’s Unit of the state police was the lead investigator.

A Juarez police officer takes photographs of Patrick Landers’ Jeep. (photo by Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

Prior to the COVID-19 citywide quarantine, Juarez had recorded 120 homicides in January and 115 in February, for a total of 235. In March and April, the city recorded a combined 333 murders.

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